The Power of Tail Wagging: How the third step in Additive Manufacturing may unlock Manufacturing 4.0

Additive Manufacturing 4.0They say study the past to know the future. In the migration from subtractive manufacturing to additive, we may be following the existing paradigm too closely.

Both subtractive and additive manufacturing span a three-step process: part design, part build and the post-processing of the part to make it viable or customer ready. There is a commonality to approach across the three steps in both subtractive and additive. Parts are designed using CAD systems. Those digital files are used to drive the build approach — to design tooling for a traditional (e.g., injection molding) build or to drive the printer in an additive build. Then, regardless of subtractive or additive, manual or mechanical solutions are generally used for post-processing. And that’s a bridge too far.

The power of industry 4.0 rests not with the automation of individual steps in a process. That’s important – but the true power rests in the connective interplay across systems. In manufacturing 4.0, it is not just the gathering of data that is important; it is the connecting of data across smart systems that is transformative. Connected data shifts the factory floor from “merely” better-informed technicians reacting to fresh data (the current step change) to better-informed machines making anticipatory changes based on data long before a technician gets involved. And that’s where additive manufacturing has the opportunity to not just radically distance itself from subtractive – but to also lead the 4.0 revolution.

Today, in both subtractive and additive, the first two steps (design and build) share a common digital thread. CAD files used in design help drive the manufacturing solutions (whether traditional or 3D printers) to build the part. In both cases, the digital thread snaps at post-processing. In subtractive, that’s state of the art. In additive, it’s the tip of the iceberg. The additive opportunity comes alive with the digitization of the third and final step.

Picture this: when you automate the third step you enjoy three immediate benefits. First, unparalleled consistency in the removal of supports and surface finishing on the thin walls, complex geometries, internal channels and fine feature detail unique to 3D printing. Second, faster throughput in processing these complex parts. And third, increased productivity underpinning a rapid ROI on automated post-processing solutions. There are important ancillary benefits as well, from radical reductions in technician attendance time to replicable processing.

But beyond automating – digitizing – the third step transforms the entirety of additive manufacturing. It creates an end-to-end solution in which the digital files used in design and build now feed the automation in the third and final step, post-processing. Moreover, it creates a closed-loop solution in which data from post-processing can be used to feed design and build iterations in real time. Learn about our PostProcess CONNECT3D® software platform in development that leverages existing CAD formats and can propel your additive system closer to 4.0 standards. Additive may just drive the first lights-out transition your company is looking for.

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